Topiary Brings ‘A Bit of Cheer’ to North Portlanders

NORTH PORTLAND — If the topiary creatures are not decked out for an approaching holiday soon enough, some fans won’t shy away from the house on the southwest corner of Houghton and Exeter.

“Children will knock on the door, and say, ‘I hope you are not sick..?” Cindy Scheel said.

On the first weekend in February, Scheel and her husband Edmund Stone got the Valentine’s Day display up.

All 18 of the creatures in the garden of Uther the Pendragon are ready to celebrate on Monday.

“It’s therapy, something we like to do, create things together,” said Scheel, adding, “One of the conditions for marrying me was that Edmund had to like gardening, or else… it won’t work. But he’s an Englishmen, they like gardening.”

Cindy Scheel and Edmund Stone.

Scheel and Stone decorate for every major holiday. Halloween is their favorite.

The only time in decades that Scheel did not decorate the topiary for Fourth of July was during a certain president’s four-year term. She was just not feeling inspired. Instead, she put up this sign.

Scheel bought her house in 1983, specifically because of the English privet hedges surrounding it.

As a child, Scheel learned topiary from her grandmother, who practiced the craft on boxwood hedges and taught it to her grandchildren.

At midnight all of the topiary creatures would jump off the hedge and dance under the moonlight, according to Scheel’s grandmother.

“There is a great deal of magic in topiary,” Scheel said.

The first topiary Scheel created was a duck named Gertrude, named after the brave duck in Jules Verne’s 1864 sci-fi novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth. The next two topiaries were Gertrude’s ducklings Jules and Verne, in homage of the book’s author Jules Verne.

The three ducks led to several other additions over the past decades.

NiBiC, the Peacock, inspired by a television network with a similar name.

Scheel and Stone met in the early 2000s when Scheel was working for the Portland Symphonic choir. She was doing a guest spot for a pledge drive and was just coming off her shift as Stone was arriving to do his own guest spot.

Stone writes, directs and hosts an internationally-syndicated classical music radio program on film music, The Score. Scheel has long worked in fundraising and is also a chef

Eventually it was an Absinthe-themed party seveal years after their first chance meeting that caused the couple to connect as more than just friends. Hosted at Scheel’s home, “The Importance of Being Absinthe” party had an Oscar Wilde theme. Scheel’s coworkers said she must have someone to play the role of Oscar Wilde.

“Edmund Stone is the closest Portland has got to Oscar Wilde,” Scheel said, though she was reluctant at first to ask Stone to participate, since at that time he was playing the field.

The waited until after some charged rehearsals and a successful party to be a couple, and got engaged one year after the gathering. They will be celebrating their 11th wedding anniversary this summer.

During the winter, the couple estimates they spend approximately 20 hours a week on topiary, and many more hours in warmer months.

While Scheel is partial to her ducks, Stone’s favorite topiary is one he personally created: a unicorn named Avalon inspired by the legendary island.

Avalon at night [Courtesy of Cindy Scheel]

During the pandemic, neighbors Scheel had never met in the previous decades approached her to ask about the topiary, or just to thank her for doing it.

“People are walking their dogs and stopping to talk. It makes people happy and brings a bit of cheer. We all need cheer right now,” Scheel said.

When the Rose Parade was cancelled in May 2021, organizers created a “Porch Parade,” where residents were encouraged to decorate their yards and porches. Scheel decorated her home’s gate, resembing the St. Johns Bridge, with roses.

Courtesy of Cindy Scheel, May 2021.

“We’re a parade all by ourselves,” Scheel posted on Facebook to promote the festival. “We’ve got a dragon, a dolphin, a cat, a dog, a camel, a bunny, a pineapple (the sign of welcome of course!), the glorious St. Johns Bridge, a whale, a duck and her two ducklings, a squirrel, an elephant, the Rainbow Bridge, a peacock and a Unicorn for your delight.”

After this Valentine’s Day, with St. Patrick’s Day and Easter falling on the same, the plan is to adorn every other creature in either Easter or St. Patrick’s decorations.

A 19th topiary will be coming soon.

“I have no idea [what it’ll be]. The hedge tells you what to do,” Scheel said.

Uther the Pendragon, pictured, hosts all the topiary creatures on his back.
Signs guide passersby to the legend of the garden and back story.

Topiary Brings ‘A Bit of Cheer’ to North Portlanders was originally published in The Pipeline on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Source: chicagopipeline

Topiary Brings ‘A Bit of Cheer’ to North Portlanders